Vive la famille! The French rally against gay marriage

American conservatives must take a close look at themselves and consider the sad state of our traditional mores: The French are doing a better job making the case for traditional marriage than is the American right. This piece from Libération tells it all.

With three simple letters - PME, or "père, mère, enfant" - the protestors stated the no-nonsense, no-beating-around-the-bush reason not to legalize same-sex marriage. "Father, mother, child."

Here's a snippet with my admittedly amateurish translation (send complaints to my old high school teachers from Williamsville South High School, circa 1985):

A huge wave. Of Catholics? "No, citizens!" a man answers. Tens of thousands of people (70,000 according to the mayor's office) were arrayed this afternoon in Paris to protest against the planned law by which the government shall legalize homosexual marriage. Among them, many rightist voters, some are experiencing their first protest.

Pink balloons, spelling out: "No to gay marriage," a family touts the slogan: "A child is the result of the union of man and woman." Frigide Barjot, the one who organized the association "for sustainable humanity," as well as the call to protest, arrives in a pink mini scooter and waves the civil code, while crying out, "We represent the PME family (father, mother, child!) We are at the beginning of a movement!"

Libération estimates that the true size of the Paris crowd was probably somewhere between the mayor's estimate of 70,000 and the organizers' figure of 200,000. It was likely around 100,000, which makes me wonder, "what's going on in America?" I can't imagine 100,000 advocates of traditional marriage gathering in New York or Washington. Have French Catholics surpassed American conservatives in courage and sacrifice?

Paris was not the only city to see protests for the "Famille PME." Other cities like Lyon also had rallies with crowds of over 20,000. The press estimates about 200,000 people in total came out to resist the proposed legalization of gay marriage. Since France has only one fifth the population of the United States, this would be equivalent to 500,000 people gathering in Washington and one million gathering across the country on a single day to exclaim support for traditional marriage.

The French deserve credit for skipping many of the obfuscations that have clouded the same-sex marriage debate in the United States. Rather than waste time with dilatory comparisons to black civil rights, pathos focused on bullies, or narratives about hospital visitations, the argument seems to hone in on children almost immediately. Even the pro-gay Advocate, in covering the protests in France, mentions that the French law goes along with movements to eradicate fatherhood and motherhood as official designations:

As part of the proposed marriage equality law and its corresponding adoption rights for same-sex couples, France is also considering removing gendered language referring to "mother" and "father" in its civil code, instead adopting the gender-n[eu]tral options "parent 1" and "parent 2."

One could interpret the unfurling melodrama in France in one of two ways, but either leads to a similar insight about marriage debates.

One could say that gay activists in France overshot by trying to scrub the words for mother and father from family law. Such a move in the United States would probably incite massive resistance.

On the other hand, one could say that proponents of traditional marriage in France were wiser than Americans about navigating the discussion. Rather than get mired in debates about the "rights" of "consensual couples" to "love one another," they cut to the underlying issue, which is as central in the United States, even if camouflaged, as it is in France: Regardless of whether homosexuals love one another, they will need the state to intervene in order to experience parenting and claim a legacy after they die. Since they cannot conceive children within their marriage, they must rent sperm or a uterus from outside, and in order for the system to work, society must abandon qualms about this process's implications for the biological parent that's excluded from custodial rights. Society would also have to agree that there is nothing particular about fatherhood and motherhood that matters for the lifelong experience of children.

Either way, it seems to me that if Americans debated gay marriage with the same frankness about the true core issue - children - then traditionalists would be getting more traction. The judgment about gay marriage becomes much more complicated when one dodges the canards about tax breaks and parallels to Jim Crow, going instead to the existential dilemma of child-rearing. Then again, with Hollande in power in France, it is unlikely these protestors will be able to block gay marriage from receiving Paris's legal imprimatur.